Tag Archives: Lit Life

Friday Links: Best Indie Bookstores

22 Nov

Happy Friday! Flavorwire’s recently been doing an indie bookstore roundup, which has been fun to peruse. I thought I’d share those with you and also offer a few of my own picks, which are mainly Beat-related or New York City-bound.

Roundups

Beat Bookstores

New York City Bookstores

What are the best indie bookstores in your neighborhood?

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

[2/12/14: edit made to this post to fix a spacing issue]

Dream Journal: Travels with Chuck D.

15 Aug

Voyage

Jack Kerouac kept a dream journal. This log of nightly dreams was later published by City Lights Press in 1960 as Book of Dreams. Even before it was published, though, Kerouac encouraged others to pay attention to their dreams. He told Allen Ginsberg to infuse his poetry with his dream life.

When I was a high school student, my psychology teacher assigned us the task of keeping a dream journal. Isn’t that the most fantastic homework assignment you can think of?! According to psychology, we dream every night, but only some nights we remember our dreams. Keeping a dream journal was supposed to help us better remember our dreams. I know some people who hardly ever dream, but I have wild dreams—especially after eating pizza!

This past Friday night I had a doozy of a literary dream! I dreamt that I was writing a book entitled Travels with Charlie, which was a riff on John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. Steinbeck’s book is a chronicle (it was purported to be nonfiction but it’s since come out that portions of it were made up) of the American road trip he took with his standard-sized poodle. My book, however, was about Charles Darwin’s travels. Incidentally, in real, waking life I once edited a reissue of his travelogue The Voyage of the Beagle. I didn’t make the connection in the dream, but perhaps there was some connection between Steinbeck’s poodle and Darwin’s Beagle. In the dream, I was retracing Darwin’s footsteps for a book about his “road trip.” I kept referring to Charles Darwin as Chuck D. or Chuckie D.—like the rapper!

I definitely need to start a dream journal!

Do you keep a dream journal? What is the wildest dream that you’ve had lately?

The Quotable Greek: If You Wish to Be a Writer

8 Apr

“If you wish to be a writer, write.”

~ Epictetus

The Writerly Blog Hop

3 Apr

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Huffington Post columnist and Burnside Writers Collective colleague Emily Timbol invited me to join a blog hop organized by writer Kirsten Oliphant of the wonderfully titled blog I Still Hate Pickles. You may remember that I participated in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop last year. I kind of feel like they’re the chain letters of the blog world and am infinitely curious who’s in my six degrees of separation.

Kirsten says in her “about me” section on her blog that she doesn’t like rules, so it should come as no surprise that she gave me and the other blog hoppers some general guidelines but told us we didn’t have to follow any set format or answer every question. Since I’m one of those creative types that tends to actually like rules (blame the editor side of my brain), I am taking a literal approach to the blog hop and answering her questions one by one.

 

What makes you (or makes a person) a writer?

A while back there was a funny meme going around called “What People Think Writers Do,” which shows just how relevant it is to discuss what makes a person a writer. There are all sorts of writers—some are political journalists, some write children’s books, some have their books turned into films, some are hobbyists. I don’t think it’s fair to place absolute judgment on who qualifies as a writer. There are many poets and fiction writers who only became famous late in life or even after death. Is a little girl writing in a diary a writer? What if I tell you her name is Anne Frank? Is a doctor who writes poetry on the side a writer? What if his name is William Carlos Williams? Okay, but what if that doctor is a career oncologist who writes nonfiction about cancer? Does it make a difference if his name is Siddhartha Mukherjee and he won a Pulitzer Prize for The Emperor of Maladies? Even if he never writes another book again? Is a blogger a writer? Is a grant writer a writer? Is someone a writer just because they have to write emails at work? Is there a difference between being a writer and writing? I wouldn’t say that whether someone is published or not or whether someone earns money or not means they are or are not a writer, but I would suggest that being a writer, in the sense of it meaning more than someone who occasionally writes their name on a check or writes a grocery list, means being intentional. This could mean being intention in carving out time for writing or being intentional in the selection of words, but not necessarily so: William S. Burroughs, for instance, used a cut-up technique that displaced authorial syntax yet he is still considered a writer.

So do I have the right to call myself a writer? Well, my name has appeared on book covers across the country and the New Yorker and the Paris Review have mentioned my writing. Then again, I don’t live off my writing—I didn’t even make a thousand dollars off my writing last year—and most people have never heard of me. I call myself a writer because even when I’m not writing I am thinking about writing.

 

Why is it sometimes hard to fess up to being a writer?

There are two big reasons why I sometimes have a difficult time admitting I’m a writer. The first is that when I introduce myself as a writer to people, they automatically ask who my publisher is—and I mean even people who aren’t in the industry suddenly want to know who the gatekeepers who let me through are or want some sort of proof that validates me as more than just the (in their mind) dreaded hobbyist. I feel like it’s like saying I’m a woman, and then someone asking who my gynecologist is. For the record, Barnes & Noble and HarperCollins Publishers have published books containing my writing. The truth, though, is that I sometimes don’t feel comfortable confessing to being a writer because I haven’t written, or published, a full-length book by myself—yet.

The second reason I don’t always like confessing that I’m a writer is because I am an editor. I personally feel that these two callings work well together, but I have noticed that people in publishing houses tend to think that the only reason I am an editor is because I’m trying to get published. I wish I was that savvy! The truth is that I began a career in book publishing because I love working with words. When I was starting out as a proofreader, the idea of being an author seemed like some far-off imagery dream, like being an astronaut. I always had a need to write, and even back then wrote for various publications, but I wasn’t diligently working on my own book. I really love working at a publishing house, seeing a book go from concept to finished product. I love working with authors and helping them achieve their dreams. From my experience, there are a lot of people in the industry who are editors and publishers because they love books and not because they themselves want to be writers. I just happen to be both.

 

How does writing affect your identity or otherwise impact your life?

I tend to view my experiences through the lens of being a writer. When I go to an art gallery, I automatically think that I have to write about the art I saw. When there’s a particularly momentous current event, I feel the need to write it down in my diary. It’s not just a matter of mining life for stories. I process information by writing. I often joke that I don’t really know what I think about something until I write about it.

Being a memoirist has helped me understand my identity beyond being a writer. Agents and editors tell writers that their main characters should never be a writer. But what do you do if you’re a memoirist and your main character is you, a writer? You dig deeper, you don’t allow your writerly self to speak for who you are. When you can’t rely on that shorthand of clichés about being a writer, that fancy wordwork that hides your true identity, you’re left with just yourself. Writing doesn’t just allow me to be myself—it forces me to be myself.

Want to join the blog hop? Answer the questions however you see fit on your own blog and post a link below as well as link to Kirsten’s post.

“My life is not a story,” Wrote the Memoirist

28 Feb

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After reading about how Benjamin Anastas describes his father as “a brooding Greek beatnik” who is “potbellied from lentils and with a beard down to his solar plexus chakra,” I knew I had to read his memoir Too Good to Be True. After all, I write about  Greeks and so-called beatniks. Too Good to Be True is the story of the breakup of his marriage and the dissolution of his writing career.

Its not told in an overtly emotional manner, yet its frankness is almost unsettling. These days we’re used to people baring all when it comes to relationships, but to tell the truth about money? To admit that even though he’d taught at an Ivy League and published in big-name magazines, he had to dig around in couch cushions to come up with money for his son’s dinner? That’s the type of honesty that’s hard to read because you worry he’s sabotaging his career by admitting his writing isn’t going all that well and putting it out there for editors and agents to read without the distance of time.

But isn’t that the struggle of the memoirist? While many critics claim that memoir writing is egocentric, a memoirist must lay down his ego. He must sacrifice self and present the truth. And while a memoirist may be introspective by nature, the beauty of memoir is discovering the truth along with the author.

This section from the chapter “Old Friends” is worth considering in terms of both memoir writing and living life:

How much of our lives do we write, and how much of them are written for us? I’ve been thinking about this problem lately, looking back over the trail that brought me to this place, and reading my progress at every step along the way—as adrift as I have been from the usual compass points, as unaware of my direction—for signs of an author, for the fingerprints left behind by some great invisible hand. My life is not a story. It has never been a story, not for me, not even while I’ve been taking great pains with this testament to tell it truthfully on the page. I am in too deep to call it a story. It hurts too much for me to understand it. But I am trying.

The contents of the book may center around infidelity and a mid-career slump, but the deeper story, the one that Anastas circles around to, is the relationship between parents and children, the relationship he had with his parents and the relationship he has with his son.

If I could request a follow up to Too Good to Be True, I would ask Benjamin Anastas to write a memoir about his childhood.

“Flophouse Budget Lifestyle”

27 Feb

Remember the other day when I waxed poetic about my submission spreadsheet? Well, I just stumbled upon Aaron Gilbreath’s article “The Business of Tracking Lit Mag Submissions” on Tin House‘s blog. I loved his old-fashioned pen-and-paper advice. This paragraph punched me in the gut:

Accepting contributor copies as payment for something that took six to twelve months to write; subsisting off microwavable Trader Joes food in order to keep your expenses low enough that you can afford time to write; working temp and odd jobs while publishing in magazines that writers respect but non-writers have never heard of – that’s monkey business. To have an adult’s business mindset and the flophouse budget lifestyle of a twenty year old musician seem antithetical, but I think of those things as part of the business of writing: few poets or essayists make enough money to support themselves by writing, but if you’re willing to live frugally and without popular recognition, you can enjoy a gratifying creative freedom by writing for literary magazines.

It’s so important to protect your creative freedom. There was a time when I didn’t. When I’d take little writing jobs here or there just for the few extra pennies in my pocket and the thrill of seeing my name in print. It took a breakup for me to realize I’d been squandering my time and my creative energy. I don’t publish as much these days, but the writing I’m doing is better, more thoughtful, more “me.” It’s worth more, to me.

And yet it’s so difficult to explain what Gilbreath phrases as “To have an adult’s business mindset and the flophouse budget lifestyle of a twenty year old musician” to someone who isn’t an artist.

Especially when you live in New York City, where the first question someone asks you is “What do you do for a living?” and where you’re judged by which neighborhood you live in. Here, a box of pasta costs double of what it costs over the bridge in New Jersey. Being middle class in New York City isn’t really the same as being middle class in other parts of the country.

Take this quote from The New York Times’ article “What Is Middle Class in Manhattan?“:

By one measure, in cities like Houston or Phoenix — places considered by statisticians to be more typical of average United States incomes than New York — a solidly middle-class life can be had for wages that fall between $33,000 and $100,000 a year.

By the same formula — measuring by who sits in the middle of the income spectrum — Manhattan’s middle class exists somewhere between $45,000 and $134,000.

But if you are defining middle class by lifestyle, to accommodate the cost of living in Manhattan, that salary would have to fall between $80,000 and $235,000. This means someone making $70,000 a year in other parts of the country would need to make $166,000 in Manhattan to enjoy the same purchasing power.

Or this one from NY Daily News‘ “N.Y.C. so costly you need to earn six figures to make middle class“:

In Manhattan, a $60,000 salary is equivalent to someone making $26,092 in Atlanta.

And of course, there’s this one from The Huffington Post’s “New York City’s Middle Class Is Facing An ‘Affordability Crisis,’ Says Christine Quinn“:

City Council defines “middle class” as those with a household income within 100 to 300 percent of the area median income (AMI). In New York City, that means an income ranging from $66,400 to $199,200.

I personally don’t have a “flophouse budget lifestyle.” I have a Career. Yes, capital “C.” I enjoy the work I do, and it also affords me the creative space I need to work on my writing without having to make a living off my writing, though I do earn money for my writing.

But, what does “lifestyle” really even mean? Reading and writing, and even being part of the literary community, do not require much money. There was some talk a while back about bookstores considering charging for readings, however most readings in New York City are free. Libraries lend out books for free. Museums have pay-what-you-wish days. There are more literary opportunities for writers in New York City than in many other places in the country, so in some ways it evens out. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

I did think this Onion article was funny, though.

Lit Life: Catcher in the Rye

7 Oct

 

I went to undergrad in Los Angeles County and currently live in New York City, where we have an active alumnae book club to keep in touch with one another.  The New York branch of the Scripps alumnae book club has been selecting books on the theme of New York.  For August 2011, we decided on none other than J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.

Oh, remember that teenage angst?!  The desire to be a grownup even though all adults seemed like “phonies.”  The distaste for classes.  The devastating crushes!  Holden Caufield, it gets better; I promise.

I hosted the book club at my apartment.  Well, I love to plan a good theme party!  Everyone was coming straight from work, but I made an extra effort to dress the part that day with a look that was prep-school chic — navy cardigan, red shirt, pleated skirt, and polished side part.
I served rye whiskey.  Get it?  Catcher-in-the-RYE whiskey?  I also put out colorful lollipops, reminiscent of the swirl of a carousel, like the one Phoebe rides in Central Park in the novel.  It was a pot luck and everyone brought such delicious foods!

So where do the ducks go in the winter?